The EV revolution requires the right chargers in the right places – at the right time

The shift from ICE vehicles to EVs represents the most significant change in transportation that the UK public has seen in decades, as GRIDSERVE’s Sam Clarke explains.

With the exception of remote working through Covid, the switch to electric cars is possibly the biggest behaviour change ask of the great British public since wartime rationing.

In a charging roll out at the scale required for the mass electric vehicle (EV) uptake, working out charge point demand is complex and nuanced.

Put simply, we must shift away from the current mentality we have with petrol and diesel cars of “I am taking time out of my day to fuel my vehicle, so I need it to be as fast as possible” to an EV centric mentality of “I don’t stop to charge, I charge because I have stopped”.

If we do that, the attraction of EV ownership isn’t just the critical role they play in moving the needle on climate change, but one of a spectacular uplift in convenience and quality of life.

When we consider the increase in EV charger infrastructure, we need to think carefully about what speed of charge goes where.

Speed of charging

There are some times and places where speed is everything. Motorway charging needs to be fast and plentiful. Likewise for charging hubs and forecourts that cater to those without access to a driveway or workplace charging. Here is where there needs to be no wait for a bay and power transfer needs to happen in the time it takes you can grab a coffee, and check your emails and then be on your way. This is where the likes of GRIDSERVE’s Electric Forecourts come in. Drivers have access to multiple High Power chargers, supplied by 100% renewable energy and providing up to 100 miles of range in as little as 10 minutes.

However, different scenarios need different solutions. No one wants to drive into a town centre for a romantic dinner and find themselves bolting back to the car as the starters arrive to move the car before the dreaded idling charges kick in. Or driving into a national park and finding that rather than charging your car while you go for a hike, you need to potter about close to the car park for an hour because the charger is neither fast enough for a quick top up or slow enough to let to go on a decent walk while it charges.

The same goes for fleet cars, we can’t have scenarios where we cause economic inactivity or additional workplace stress due to the wrong type of charger. Imagine a regional sales director with 10 appointments across 200 miles drumming their fingers on the dashboard waiting for a 50kW on-route charger to charge up the car. Or a district nurse having a nip out of a patient appointment to move their car from a 7kW on-street charger before charges kick in.

Idle time

The Government’s UK Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy outlines a high expectation of idle time on chargers, especially with on-street where they expect 48-64% of plug-in time to be inactive. However, if we think carefully about what chargers are installed and where, we can avoid this inactivity and the associated grid capacity challenges that come from making abundant power available in places where it may not be needed.

When we think about the Government’s expectation of 300,000 public charge points, we need at least two levels of breakdown (high powered public access and low powered home, workplace, street etc) and we can draw two reasonable baseline scenarios.

Scenario one (and these are both very theoretical), say we need 50,000 public 175kW chargers by 2030, but instead, we install 350kWs, to ensure charging infrastructure is future-proofed and ready to cater to the high-speeds of new EV charging capabilities. We now could arguably only need 25,000 as each car takes half the time to charge and the throughput metrics are completely different. Plus, the number of chargers per location will determine different requirements and different target numbers. This is the less chargers, more power approach.

Scenario two would see low powered chargers at work, home, or street where it’s less about power, more about dwell time, which is longer. So, we need a larger number of low-powered chargers where people charge whilst doing routine things such as sleeping or working: the: more chargers, less power approach.

However, these scenarios are only valid when we put the right chargers in the right places and charging sessions occur at the right times, both for consumer convenience as well as smart energy management.

Targets overall can be a good thing but, in this instance, they must have carefully considered in both nuance and detail. We don’t need 300,000 x 7kW chargers or 300,000 x 350kW chargers. We need to consider the national picture of on-route, on-street, workplace, location, and destination chargers. Behaviour change experts, not technology gurus, need to guide how people use spaces and help determine what charging technology will be used to thrive there.

Sam Clarke is Chief Vehicle Officer at GRIDSERVE.

Sign up for our essential
newsletter service.

Enter your details here.